Easel Position and Posture

Hi all! Just wanted your opinion regarding an ideal set-up for working on detailed paintings using small brushes etc. Do you find it less stressful (physically) to work standing up rather than on a surface looking down? I feel that I can’t find a comfortable option and have neck and shoulder pain on and off! So since I have to spend long hours painting detailed work I would appreciate it if you share any useful tips on this matter. How do you full-time artists deal with this?

Thanks so much,



That’s a great question to bring up Christine. I alternate between both. For my early layers (block-ins/lay-ins), where there are loooong days of small meticulous work—I tend to sit. If the size of the work is appropriate (on the smaller side) I make use of a desktop lectern that sits atop my drafting table. Later layers are always done at the easel so as to avoid dust.

Here’s what my setup looks like:

In my initial years of long painting days I too had back pain (often between the shoulder blades.) As time went by it diminished and now there is no pain or discomfort. I can only speculate that it worked itself out.


I always worked sitting hunched over a desk until I started at Tony’s studio; now (in prep for oil painting) I work all day sitting up vertically at an easel. The guy next to me likes to work standing. I like sitting, but I usually sit cross-legged on my chair, which is sort of odd, but somehow comfortable for me personally. The guy who used to work next to me liked to swing his chair around and sit on it backwards so he could lean forward against what would normally be the back. Whatever works, works. That said, the first year of working daily at the easel was always leaving my back and neck sore. I don’t know how long you’ve been at it, but sadly back/neck discomfort seem to be something you just have to power through until your body gets used to it, for the most part.

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Thanks so much for your reply Anthony! And thanks for the images of your setup. I need to invest in some kind of drafting table which would allow me to change the angle of the surface to avoid hunching over the work. The additional lectern is a brilliant idea! I would love to try out your way…to change between standing up and sitting down according to the painting stages. And it’s reassuring to hear that this problem might subside once my body gets used to it and once I find out what works for me! Thanks again for your input Anthony.

Thanks a lot for your reply Edward! You’ve shared good tips that I could consider and try out. I have been painting for years but it is only in the last year or so that I’m painting full-time so it triggered a lot of discomfort, especially when I have deadlines approaching and need to paint for hours at a stretch. It is very hopeful to hear again that this issue is generally resolved on its own with time…I think our body would get used to it.

Thanks again for your input. Much appreciated!


I do always work with a vertical easel, either standing or sitting, Over the years standing and working has gotten my feet, ankle and knee flared up at different times and sitting and working has aggravated my shoulders, upper back and neck.

My solutions to the aches and pains:
Building endurance has helped, listening to my body and changing my set up even just a little before a repetitive movement gets to be a problem, sometimes it can be as simple as moving my palette in a way that changes my reach, mines often vertical so I will maybe move it to the right of my canvas rather then the left where its been the last week or so or maybe I’ll lay it flat for a change, I also will rotate between standing and sitting on my projects to give different muscles a break. I like to use a foam roller on my back on brakes and a tennis ball works fantastic for sore spots on your upper back placed against you and a wall, another thing that has helped with shoulder stiffness is to avoid cocking my elbow up at 90 degrees so much while working, instead keep it pointed down towards the floor as much as you can.


Many thanks for your reply Anthony. Yes I do agree that building endurance will definitely help! The tips you’re suggesting all make sense and it is good to try things out and see what works for you. I have quite a small room as my studio and I’m always experimenting with different layouts to make it easier and more practical to work. Right now I want to try alternating between sitting and standing and see how it goes…but I need to buy a vertical easel as mine doesn’t come completely vertical.

Thanks a lot for your input! Very much appreciated :slight_smile: